So as I sit and write this I'm sat in England wrapped up trying to fight the cold, whilst dealing with the one that has settled itself in my nose and head! I want to share with you how my final week in Colombia went and what it has been like since I returned to England. If I could, I would also tell you about thoughts for the future, but I really don't know and I don't want to try and guess because that won't help anyone.
My final week in Colombia was amazing, and emotional, but a time of blessings, memories and sharing. I got to spend some really good times with the family before they headed back to the north of Colombia and just catch up with them really about what has been going on, general life, and plans for the future. I got to see my Colombian nephew again after he had been in quarantine and then I had been away. The last time that I saw him he was 2 weeks old, when I saw him again, he was 5 months old! A better age for sure, more interesting this time around! It was great to see him, and he was fascinated with my eyes (green, so different). It was wonderful to see him looking so healthy after he had been so sick only a few months before. Having this time with the family reminded me once again how God blessed me richly with these people, who accepted me as their own. I was entrusted with an apartment, a granddad and a son for 6 months; I was made to feel part of the family, given a nephew, and now have another family for life. Not many people can say that now can they. Also in that final week I got to spend time with friends. We went to the cinema to see The Hobbit 3 (Jason was finally happy…his year started well!), I had coffee with a good friend Laura and we had a picnic with others to celebrate a birthday and I went to a place called Chia with my friend Angela, a place that I hadn't been before despite it being so close to Bogota. We explored the plaza, had a juice, walked around more, took some photos as it got dark in front of the Christmas lights and then went to the shopping centre for some food. I did my final evaluation with Abi, which was a surreal experience, another learning experience and an important time of reflection and sharing. I had lunch with Felipe, which as always was special and fun, but sad knowing that for a while (a long while) we won't be sharing that again, and I went to the school where I learnt Spanish to say goodbye to people. There I had a reflective moment remembering that that was the place where I started and which set me up with the basics of Spanish and prepared me slightly for the big world of Spanish. It was a strange experience being back there, but I was pleased I went and helped to give me some closure. I also caught up with another friend called Miguel which was lovely, had tea with Grace (my work boss), which was good to catch up, and had my last dance classes. I felt really sad doing the dance classes knowing that I won't find anything quite like it in England, and also having to say goodbye to people who I have got to know a bit and who have also encouraged me with my Spanish.
My last Saturday I squeezed in some final exercise at 2600m before Danni came over to do some baking in preparation for my leaving gathering, which I was having that night. We cooked some chocolate brownies and flapjacks, and then had time to watch a small bit of the film Elf, which we had been dying to watch all Christmas. Before the gathering, we had a debrief about Santa Marta, so the team turned up for that and an hour and half (standard) later than the agreed time, we started the meeting. This was a good time to discuss how we thought things had gone, what we would change, what we could have done better, what went well, etc. Plus it was nice to have the team back together. Unlike normal Colombian things, people started arriving practically on time for my leaving thing! I was like "noooooooooooo, we're not ready!" Everyone mucked in to get food out on the table and music started and eventually I remembered to breathe and was able to chat with people. I personally had a really great time and was overwhelmed by who turned up. In total there were about 40 people, but not just 40 people who I wasn't bothered about; these people were/ are still friends, people who had supported me, encouraged me, taught me, put up with me, and accepted me just as I am. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, you never know who you might impact. I had thought of playing the cardboard box game during the night, but as I looked round I saw how content people were just chatting, and a bit later on we got the salsa on and the dancing started and continued for a good few hours. I was also ecstatic that Juan (my Colombian brother) and his girlfriend were there. They aren't yet Christians, but they joined in and saw this group of people, all who were Christians, having an amazing time (yes they were having an amazing time!) without being wasted. They both commented on this as well, saying how everyone was laughing and dancing and not really drinking. It's a great testimony to Jesus when Christians are seen dancing, laughing and enjoying themselves without being off their faces on alcohol or drugs, and how privileged I felt to be a part of that. The gathering continued until about 1.30-2.00am and the last people to go were part of the Santa Marta team…still going strong! I honestly can't begin to explain how I felt at this moment in time, but I knew that that night had been one of the best that I had had. I went to bed tired, but content that I would be leaving on a high, and that I definitely have friends for life.
Waking up to go to church the next day was rather tough but I did it. Church was slightly emotional knowing it was my last time there, my last time worshiping like that in Spanish and my last time with that group of people. However, I know that God has plans for the future, and I trust in Him for them. The rest of the day was a quiet one, which I spent packing and doing nothing, as I was shattered. As I went to bed that night and was thinking about what was to come God gifted me some words. He said "It's not the size of the step that is important, what is important is that you keep taking them, even if it's into the unknown". I went to sleep with peace in my heart knowing that whatever comes my way, I can deal with it, as God is not just with me, but within me and will never leave me.
Monday morning came, and Grace took me to the airport along with granddad. There to meet me and see me off were Abi, Danni, Miguel and David. All 7 of us went for a coffee having checked in my bag and paid the 74,000 pesos to leave! It's always a strange moment when you have that time together before one person is leaving. The conversation is quite superficial, and no-one really wants to say too much because well, what can you say. You have conversations about tea, or coffee or random things just to make conversation, and then suddenly you have to say goodbye. This is basically what happened, but I'm not complaining, it was amazing to have a send off and once again I was reminded that I arrived in Colombia without friends, and was leaving with at least 6. Saying goodbye was hard, but we held firm with our tears. It was not goodbye, only see you soon. As I walked through security (and had my kettle bell taken off me…that's a private joke between God and I), I felt peaceful about what's to come, but also felt that I was going on holiday…a very strange feeling!
The journey itself was fine, there were no real hitches, I took advantage of duty free in New York and just settled in on the final leg, but didn't get much sleep due to general flying 'comfort'.
I arrived in London and was greeted by my mum, dad and auntie, which was lovely. We all went for a hot drink and a quick catch up before going our separate ways. As we went to pay for the car park ticket I was hit by the Baltic conditions and the reality of where I was dawned on me. After asking my dad which side of the car to get in, we were on our way with me huddled up in a ball trying to stay warm.
So I've been back for two weeks now and I can honestly say that it has not been all that easy. In some respects yes, but in others no, and it's made me think a lot about why reverse culture shock is so hard (I'm still thinking about it, so don't have many answers). I do think though that when you're taken away from all your comforts and everything that you know, and you give yourself to God, you really do change a lot. Of course in a year everyone changes, but something deeper changes when you really don't have any creature comforts and you allow God to change you. I'm also aware that whilst I'm still seeing people and have things to do I'm coping okay with being here, but soon I won't have that and that is when the challenge will come. I'm a dooer and although God has taught me so much about just being, it is still a challenge, and one that scares me. It is so tempting to get out there, look for work and get busy, but I know that I'm not ready for that and it's not what God wants. Another challenge is dealing with society's expectations that I should be job searching because in our society we should be working. I firmly believe however, that I need time to process my year and remain open to what God wants me to do, which I can't do if my head is focusing on what society expects. Of course I need to be proactive, but I also need to get the balance right when I feel the time is right. Thankfully I've been blessed with friends and family who understand this concept, so even though society might try and pressure me, those closest and most important to me will not.
So what else is different? Well I'm now not searching so much for a bin in the bathroom to put toilet paper in, but I would say for at least the first week I kept looking around for one before remembering that I can put the paper in the toilet. It's amazing how guilty I felt doing it, and how strange it felt despite having done it for 26 years (okay maybe less seeing as I didn't do it myself for the first few years of my life, but you get my jist) before moving away for just 1 year! Isn't it interesting how we can adjust so much to something in just 1 year?
I'm still fascinated and loving the fact that there is hot water in the sink taps, meaning that I can wash my hands and face with warm water in a sink! Simple things I knowJ. Making a cup of tea or coffee doesn't require hovering around the hob waiting for the water to boil, as you just flick the switch on the kettle and voila! In my house in Colombia we didn't have a microwave, but here we do and I love just being that bit lazier when it comes to heating up food! Again simple things.
I've noticed that no one beeps their horn as soon as the traffic lights turn amber…I'm like "erm let's go sunshine it's amber", or when it's green…they just wait patiently…what is that about! Plus no taxis or buses beep to see if you want a lift, they just drive on past as though you don't exist! Talking of not existing, I've not had any comments by random men about my eyes. I know I moaned about this before, but it really does feel weird. I mean I now just blend in with everyone else. I have noticed everyone else's eyes and hair though. My first few days I was like "woah she's blond with blue eyes, how weird!" and I'm still shocked to see such diversity when it comes to hair and eye colour. I would say I'm noticing these things more, which is cool, but strange because before I didn't. Also with noticing things more, I'm more aware of conversations because I actually understand them. At times I feel like I can hear what everyone is saying, which is hard on the brain, but it's because I actually understand…that's not happened for a whole year! What I do love though is that there are a lot of Polish people here, and I love that I still hear conversations that I don't understand…that's a backwards creature comfort in that it feels more normal.
I still don't know which way I'm meant to look when crossing the road, but now I'm driving again I'm remembering that I need to drive on the left hand side…always helpful.
So basically this whole moving back to England thing is a process and one that will take time to really adjust to. It's great seeing friends and family and being welcomed back with open arms and getting to just chill out with those closest to me. I love being able to walk around and recognise places, notice what has changed and what is still the same and actually know where I am going. I'm keeping up the salsa, and although it is different, I'm enjoying it and just hearing the music takes me back to Colombia. Patience is the key here, so I'm pleased that God taught me a bit more of this whilst I was away.
So I reckon this will be my last blog, the rest of my thoughts will most likely remain private from now on. Thanks for keeping up with my year. If God calls me away again, well you may get to read all the new things that I am learning once again, if not well I hope that you have your own experiences in which you can grow. Despite having a year of challenges, I am thankful to God for giving me that opportunity, and my prayer will always be that I will be open and available for whatever He wants me to do next.